I can picture my family sitting around a table. In our culture, we share all the dishes together. We pick off each other's plates. My mom never wants to waste food, so she always eats all the things the kids left on the plate. Food brings everyone together — it nourishes our soul and our love for one another. And I think that's what food justice means to me and my family. We love eating together. We love spending time with one another and food is always a part of that.
Amy Powers is a mother, colleague, collaborator, wife, sister, and daughter of immigrant parents. She is also the Co-Executive Director of Programs at APANO and a former staff member of Oregon Food Bank.
In honor of our collective work to end hunger and its root causes, we wanted to share a slice of Amy’s life — her personal and professional journey, stories about food, community, and culture, and the perspective that drives the work she does every day.
“Food is a part of everyone,” Amy shares. “Every human eats. It's an important part of our culture, and it's also a human right — just to have food, fresh, available food. That’s what food justice means to me — everyone should be able to access real food that is appropriate for them and their culture.”
In anything she does, Amy brings her whole self to the table, and she encourages others to do the same. Her story — and her resiliency, drive, and motivation to create change in her community — begins with her parents. Her parents came to the U.S. with $20 in their pocket, to an unfamiliar country that didn’t speak their language, and her mom worked graveyard and swing shifts while raising Amy and her brother. “My parents are absolutely my heroes,” Amy shares. “My mom is such an amazing, strong woman. She brought our culture to our family every day, and that's who I learned from. I learned from my mom how to be resilient and strong and take joy in family, take care of one another and build community.”
This passion and commitment to community-building has shaped Amy’s personal and professional life. She worked in youth development for 20 years with youth and families in her community in Washington County. At Oregon Food Bank, Amy led the metro services team serving Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties and she was also a member of the Oregon Food Bank equity ambassadors, where she worked to advance equity, inclusion and diversity within our organization. Now at APANO, she is the Co-Executive Director of Programs where, as part of a shared leadership model, her work unites Asians and Pacific Islanders to build power, develop leaders, and advance equity through organizing, advocacy, community development, and cultural work.
“The work that I do every day,” she reflects, “I hope it has a positive impact on our community. And when I think about community, it's about the people. It's about our cultures. It's about how each of us are trying to do better for one another.”
Food justice, to Amy, centers around an image of her family:
Amy’s drive to create change in her community is rooted in her own experience with hunger. She knows what it feels like to struggle to put food on the table, to have to choose between food and rent and bills. She knows what it feels like to try to access services where people don’t speak her language or look like her. And because of this, she knows the importance of not only providing food to the community, but also making sure there is equitable access to food through language and translation services, culturally-relevant options, and community-led programs.
Amy shares a memory that shaped her drive to do community-building work:
I had this amazing, joyful moment where I brought a child into this world and it was the happiest I’ve ever been. And then immediately following that, to be handed a medical bill where I couldn’t pay it, I had to make a decision if I could pay that medical bill or pay rent or eat that day. And I’ll never forget that feeling, that feeling of drowning.
Amy says she holds onto that memory, that feeling of drowning, when making decisions that impact the community. “I felt, in that moment, shame. But on the other side of it, I also felt passion driving up inside of me. I wouldn't have survived without trying to get access to resources in that time when I didn't know how to… figure it out or navigate through it. That’s what I think about when I hear about community members in this moment, trying to do the very best that they can with the resources that they have… And I try to hold that feeling in the work that I do. I don’t want any other family to ever experience that.”
Amy’s incredible advocacy in our community shows how those of us with lived experience of hunger are the experts on hunger. When we know intimately what the problems are, we are in the best position to determine meaningful solutions. This is why we are working to close the gap between those of us experiencing hunger and the decisions that affect us.
The majority of Oregon Food Bank staff have experienced hunger and/or its root causes in our own lives. Amy’s story shows us how important it is that staff reflect the community. “When we don't bring in folks from the community, we're isolating the work,” she says. “When our community members feel supported and listened to, we can really make change. And that's in partnership — it isn't one or the other. It’s together.”
We often speak at Oregon Food Bank of our goal to “work ourselves out of a job” — we envision a world where no one experiences hunger and where fresh, culturally-relevant food is readily and easily available. Amy reflects on this:
“When we talk about working ourselves out of a job, I truly mean that I never want any of our communities to ever be hungry. And the only way that we can address that is, yes, with food, but also by addressing systems of oppression and the things that drive hunger. Those things have hurt my family. Those things have hurt me. And no one should be experiencing that. The root causes of hunger are embedded in our communities. It’s going to take all of us to dismantle that. And every little step that we're taking is a step forward and we're moving towards that goal.
I hope we end hunger in 10 years. I really do. And that my kids will never be hungry. That my neighbors will never be hungry, or their children. It’s very possible for communities to not know hunger. It’s a basic human right.”